Saturday, March 16, 2019- AMA Forecourt, Accra.
“Kwɛ, akpa? Amɛ’mmale kraa,” exclaimed a raucous voice from behind Oko Likpi—like he didn’t just hear the music cease, or an announcement that the party was coming to an end. Oko Likpi cracked a smile and then turned sharply in his seat to confirm from whence this cry had come. As he suspected, the excitable threat had been launched by a dark heavy-bellied man behind him—the same one who, awed by the splendor of proceedings, remarked minutes earlier: “Gamɛi anifeemɔ.”
The evening no doubt belonged to this man—with a half-empty beer in his right hand, and sodden in an all-white ensemble—more than any other patron at the 2019 Accra Music Expo, which was fittingly held on the forecourt of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). Oko Likpi wasn’t sure if it this is his first bottle tonight—or his last.
Since he arrived on the grounds, the potbellied man had hardly remained in his seat, sentimentally bellowing verses and choruses of timeworn Ga highlife medleys, dancing off-tempo, but dancing all the same.
This man was having a blast, and he was not done. He clearly had an extra hour of dance in his thighs. How therefore, can the band be striking their final note this early? In any case, was flavoursome live band music thus not the reason “everybody loves Saturday niiiiiiiiiight”?
This is unacceptable. Organisers muuuust be joking, Oko Likpi found himself echoing the pregnant man’s sentiment, albeit inwardly.
Only a half moon inhabited the infinite skies tonight. All the stars literally descended to the earth beneath, to lead patrons of the bash—which is precursor to Citi FM’s MOGO (Music of Ghanaian Origin), happening this weekend—in pulsating sessions of classic highlife medleys rendered in the Ga dialect.
The lineup: Cina Soul, the Evergreen Dance Band, Adane Best, and traditional music collective, Dromo Naa. A virtuoso roster, the compact list of performers truly proved themselves trusted marksmen for the task of re-imagining Ga rhythm with both grace and spirit.
Spanning contemporary anthems and ageless staples, the music reverberated in and around the beautiful yard—which was illuminated by colourful stage lights and elegant smiles—against the World Trade Center building nearby, the empty lorry station across the street, and in the bones of passers by.
From Soul’s sophisticated riffs during ET Mensah/ Ramblers International tributes, through energetic pastiches by the zebra-striped fugu-fied Evergreen, to Best’s riveting Dromo Naa-backed session comprising the immortal dance sparkers “Ayitey,” “Gyata Bi,” “Mama Mia,” “Zamunyamunya Mu,”and “Mafio”; and then finally, the Dromo Naa crescendo, which ended too abruptly for the potbellied man’s liking.
That final performance by Dromo Naa, wrapped in bold green cloth, excellently summed up a memorable dance rave. Furnishing the gathering with intoxicating doses of folk nostalgia, they too were high on their own supply, Oko Likpi observed—judging by the vivacious dance sequence which took the backup dancers about the length of the stage. He was also struck by the majestic vocal harmony the band exercised even as they dished out beloved refrains: “KK miŋgbo,” “walatu walasa, “2 paddi follow one girl,” “Kaafo ni moko kwɛ odaŋŋ”…
Revelers (a cosmopolitan blend of expats and indigenes alike) were indeed, primed for a party—for once a new tune was raised, they instinctively streaked hurriedly to the dancefloor to express 60s moves with the vivacity of teenagers: the staff-bearing bald-headed senior citizen and his companion; a younger couple, swaying in tandem, all the way down, as is the tradition of highlife boogie; a heavily contoured melanin lady surprisingly dancing by herself, not in front of the stage, but right in front of her seat; male youth in football jerseys over ripped denims, galloping with ample morale; queen mothers clad in traditional regalia radiating all basked in the comfort of rich melody; as if the following day was not a church day.
For the few who were unwilling to stand for various reasons, head nodding and feet tapping became automatic responses to the thumping percussion pulses, and seductive string interludes.
Compered by a hazardously hilarious Nii Kpakpo Thompson, the 2019 Accra Music Expo didn’t only serve music; it also allowed for a tear inducing sketch by the Adabraka Drama Troupe, in honour of late cast member, Ebenezer Lartey (Ataa Mensah) whose demise occurred on January 15.
The loss of an icon as Mr. Lartey—who raised many millennials with his captivating acting skills on local TV—is hard to stomach, for he was integral to the upbringing of an entire generation, Oko Likpi included. Lartey not only shaped Ga cinema; he shaped culture.
If this is what constitutes the warm-up, then it is fireworks that Oko Likpi can expect at MOGO come March 23 at the National Theatre, Accra. Cina Soul and Adane Best are slated for the night, which has now become the ultimate highlife party since its inception. Kwabena Kwabena, Kofi B, the Kwan Pa Band, Amandzeba, Bessa Simons, and K. K Kabobo constitute the remainder of the contingent.
Beyond everything else, the intent of the Accra Music Expo—according to organisers—was to celebrate the impact of indigenous Ga music. A delicate task to take on, it was expertly executed, leaving patrons dragging their feet from the event grounds.